The hidden benefits of physical touch: Does massage have deeper healing powers than we think?

July 05, 2015 0 Comments

The generally accepted beliefs about the benefits of massage are not a secret. We know that it benefits psychological health by encouraging relaxation and relieving stress, and the physical benefits vary, but it is generally expected to relieve muscular tension and speed up general healing through stimulation of circulation and the lymphatic system. And of course, it feels great!

The physical sensations of massage are surely one of the main draws, but could there be more to that than meets the eye? All beings respond positively to physical touch. It is a very natural and instinctive thing. Some studies have concluded that physical touch plays an important role in the development of healthy behaviour in babies of all species. So much so that survival may not be guaranteed without it.

Our healthy development requires physical touch

Deane Juhan, author of ‘The Physical, Psychological, and Spiritual Powers of Bodywork’ talks about organisms that have not received nurturing touch, saying: "They grow more slowly, have less developed skeletal muscular systems, inferior coordination, depressed immunological resistance, less pronounced pituitary/adrenal activity, later puberties, and are less successful breeders and nursers. They are much more emotionally distressed. They are less lively, less curious, less active problem solvers, less willing to explore new environments, and advance more slowly in all forms of conditioned learning exercises.”

As physical touch isn’t really the kind of thing we monitor, it is easy to overlook its importance in our lives. We might not realise just how much it affects our behaviour. For those of us not lucky enough to have an affectionate partner or close family relationships, we may be so used to the lack of it in our lives that it doesn’t seem like there is anything missing. Yet when we go to have a massage, we relish the experience and can even feel like a new person afterwards. Is that really all about muscular tension or a hard day at the office? Or could it be that there is an instinctual, even subconscious desire for human connection being met? 

Are our reactions telling us something?

A clue to this might be how we feel about the massage therapist. Maybe it stands to reason that if we quickly feel at ease with a new therapist, it’s because we received a lot of physical affection as a child. For those of us who were not so fortunate, maybe it doesn’t come so naturally to relax with a stranger in an intimate environment. Because we are paying for a service and usually with a goal in mind, we might not be totally aware of the source of our discomfort. After all, massage is common, normal and positive – if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be booking in for it!

It doesn’t seem to be the case that the majority of people in society are openly tactile or affectionate. Most families don’t talk about it. If you look at the behaviour of people in big cities, day to day - they actively avoid physical contact with each other on public transport, apologising if they so much as brush shoulders! It’s not something that seems to be considered a health benefit. Another sign of the general attitude towards it is that the health care industry generally labels other industries that offer physical therapies as ‘alternatives’, so it seems that aside from the obvious (think physiotherapy, sports massage) on the whole, physical touch is not considered an essential healing tool.

Benefits of education for the massage industry 

We are very clear in society about what is inappropriate touch – yet we are not so quick to think about there being an opposite, which is quite interesting! Do you think the massage industry could be playing a vital role in personal wellbeing on a much deeper level? Should there be more education (and encouragement) for young families about the benefits of physical touch? Perhaps massage could be marketed as a vital developmental tool, if people were more aware of the wider range of benefits?

Massage Table Size Guide

Massage tables comes in many different shapes and size. It can be confusing for you, the customer, to choose the right one but we are here to help!

A lot of customers call us up after they have bought the wrong size massage table elsewhere and we would like to help you avoid this mistake. It normally goes something like this; they like the look of a picture of a massage table on a website, they like the low price and then they check the carrying weight is ok. If the carrying weight fits their needs they click add to cart and the new massage table turns up at their doorstep in a few days. They unfortunately assume all massage tables are pretty much the same width and size.

The standard size of a massage table is 28 inches wide (71cms) and 73 inches (185cms) long. One of the reasons many "lightweight" budget massage tables are so cheap is because

  1.  They are smaller in size (normally around 61cms wide) and as such have less materials
  2. They are sold by specialist retailers who also sell anything else they can import and turn a profit on. As such they just buy the cheapest massage tables they can find in China. They go for smaller sizes as they are cheaper.

Make sure the massage table is the right size for you and your clients as the narrow massage tables at 61cms can be very uncomfortable for anyone who isn't petite and many clients cannot relax with their shoulders and arms unsupported.


The Width of the Massage Table:

Almost all therapists choose the standard 28 inch wide massage table. All our massage tables are the same length so it is only the width and shape our customers need to decide on.

Your massage table should be wide enough to cater for the wide variety of shapes and sizes of your clients. It needs to be wide enough to comfortably accommodate your treatment style, while being narrow enough to ensure you don’t have to strain your own back during treatments.

Each therapist's postural training and ability is different, so only you will know what massage table width you can handle. We have spoken to therapists who are five feet tall and get the wider 30 inch massage tables, and we speak to six foot therapists who have back problems and go for a 25 inch wide massage table. Everyone is different.

Generally speaking, if you are of smaller stature, you may do better with one of the narrower 25-inch massage tables. If you're quite tall, or are particularly keen to offer your clients a very spacious experience, a 30-inch massage table might be more suitable.

If you are in doubt, see if you can go into your local training college and see whether the massage tables there suit you. However, there is another way to get a feel for what will work of you don’t have access to a couch when you are deciding:

Cut out a piece of cardboard to the dimensions of both sizes you are deciding between. Put it on top of the kitchen table and lean over it. Visualise a client lying there, and see which width will suit you and your client best.

measuring the width of a massage table

Make sure you can get close enough to the table that you can pivot at the waist and have your shoulders squared to the clients hips, with your hands parallel to the clients' spine. Working in this position will ensure an injury-free career, so it's an important factor in your decision.

The most popular massage table widths are 28 and 30 inches. We sell 25-inch massage tables but you should really only choose this width if you are shorter in height and having a wider massage table might put your own back at risk over the course of your career.

You can also choose the 25-inch if you want to have the lightest massage table possible. By reducing the width of the massage table, the weight is also reduced. Now, this can mean a trade-off of some client comfort, but this trade is often worthwhile if you are a fully mobile therapist and use public transport frequently, where saving a kilogram or two will make a difference to you over time.


The Height Of the Massage Table

Nowadays, almost all portable massage tables come with height adjustable legs. Whichever massage table you choose should come with a large height range to accommodate you, and to cater for a broad range of therapies.

A common height range of massage tables is between 60 to 80cm, and this height range should cater for everyone. To check which height you need your massage table to be at follow this rule of thumb:

1. Stand up straight with your hands by your sides. Clench your fists.
2. Measure the distance between the floor and your knuckles
3. This distance should equal the height of your massage table.
4. Add a few inches in height to allow for the body of the patient on the massage table.

The height of a massage table is usually only adjusted when different therapists are using the same massage table, or if you have a client that is outside the average size you normally treat. So for example, if someone with a lot of body depth comes for a treatment after an average size person, you may need to adjust the height a notch or two.

You should be able to adjust the height of a massage table in just 2-3 minutes. Even though you mightn't adjust the height very often, the faster the better when you do have to!

There are 2 types of height adjustment mechanisms found on modern massage tables.

1) Twisting knobs (found only on wooden massage tables):

If you are working with a wooden massage table, it is better to have two knobs on each of the four legs for greater strength and reliability. When buying online, make sure to check how many knobs are on the legs. Cheap massage tables often only have one knob, and when you raise the legs to the highest heights they are less stable and have been known to snap.

2) Telescopic push-buttons (found only on aluminium massage tables):

The mechanism to adjust the height of an aluminium massage table is much the same as the push-button method on aluminium crutches. It only takes a few seconds to adjust each leg, and the mechanism is very reliable. Check out the video to see how it’s done.


Massage Table Shape:

The following are the different shapes of massage tables on the market.

1. Rectangle shaped with square corners 

This is the traditional shape of a massage table and the one you are probably familiar with seeing. Our Combi-lite 3 in 1 and Affinity Portaflex are shaped like this.

2. Rectangle shaped with rounded corners

Same as no 1 above in every way except the corners are rounded. Does not affect function in any way, just a different design/look.


3. Hour glass shaped with gradual gradient 

A fabulous massage table innovation in recent years, which solves a lot of the problems around choosing the correct width is the hourglass shaped massage table.

This style of massage table is wider at the ends, and tapers somewhat at the middle. This provide a spacious and comfortable experience for your client (as the shoulder and feet area are 30 inches wide) without compromising your own posture and health, as the middle of the couch where you lean over is a much narrower 26 inches wide.Having recently upgraded to one of these hourglass massage tables myself, I can vouch that my working days are much more comfortable, and many of my clients have commented on the extra comfort from the wider shoulder area.


4. Hour glass shaped with sharp gradient
Same as point above but instead of the it gradually going from wide to narrow, the massage table changes quickly from normal width to narrow width so people of very short stature can get in close.
5. Oval Shaped

 The name says it all! There are no corners on the massage table. Therapists normally choose this for one of two reasons. They simply like the look of this massage table and it is aesthetically more pleasing in their treatment room and/or they find it easier to move around the massage table during the treatment without having to side step the corners. This is particularly handy when space is limited in your treatment room.

oval massage table


Have any questions or comments about anything above? Please let us know in the comments below!